In this chapter, we see the prudence of Joshua in sending two spies to search out the path that lay ahead of them as they entered the Promised Land. Nearly 40 years earlier, the people of Israel had asked Moses to send 12 spies from Kadesh-barnea; and the unhappy result of this act of unbelief was that they were sentenced to wander in the wilderness for four decades, instead of entering the good land that they had despised. But Joshua’ spies were not sent to see whether the land was really as good as God had said it was (which had been the mission of the 12 spies sent from Kadesh-barnea). They were merely commissioned to find the best practical way to follow the Lord’s command; and they were to report back to Joshua himself with their news, not to the whole camp of Israel.
The Providence of God directed the spies to the house of Rahab, inside the city of Jericho. Rahab had apparently come to faith in Jehovah, as we may deduce from her confession in verse 11. And although it may seem astonishing, she became one of the ancestors of our Lord Jesus! (Matt. 1:5) If Joshua’s two men had gone to any other house in Jericho, they would have certainly been betrayed. Things which seem to us to be accidents are often overruled by Divine Providence to accomplish great things. It was “by faith” that Rahab received these spies with peace, when her king and country were determined to kill them. The Apostle James speaks of this action as a good work that was the result of her faith, which set her above the fear of man (James 2:25).
Perceiving that the spies had probably been observed when they entered the city, Rahab concealed them under the stalks of flax that she had laid to dry upon her flat roof. Thus, if the officers came to search for them, they would not be discovered. Sure enough, the authorities demanded that Rahab turn the spies over to them. She not only pretended that she did not know who they were; but she also told them that they had already left the city and could be overtaken, so that no more searches would be made for them in the city. Although we would like to offer excuses to lessen the guilt of Rahab’s falsehood, since it was done for the safety of Israel’s spies; we must remember that her words were still a lie. It should be noted that the Bible commends Rahab for her faith, and not for her falsehood. Even the best of God’s saints are still humans at best, and we all have great reason to be thankful that the Lord pardons our infirmities. Our sin-nature clings to us until we die; and sadly, it manifests itself more at some times than at others.
After the searchers had left, Rahab came up to the rooftop to speak to the two spies. She told them how all the inhabitants of Canaan had heard of the miracles that the Lord had done for Israel. She told the spies something that would give Joshua and the people all the encouragement they needed: the Canaanites were actually terrified of the Israelites who were about to invade them! Rahab believed that the Lord’s promises would certainly be fulfilled, and that His threatenings would take effect. She knew that there was no way of escape except by submitting to Him, and joining herself with His people; and she expressed her faith in Jehovah as the true God of heaven and earth. She had only heard of the wonders which the Lord had done, and yet she spoke with more assurance of the truth of His promises than the Israelites had – who had been eyewitnesses of those wonders, and yet perished through unbelief of His promises!
Rahab petitioned the two spies to take her and her family under the protection of the Israelites, so that they would not perish in the destruction of Jericho. Those who truly believe the Lord’s promise of ruin to sinners, as well as His promise of the heavenly Canaan for God’s people, will diligently flee from the wrath to come. They will earnestly seek to lay hold of eternal life, by joining themselves with God and His people. The spies solemnly promised that the lives of Rahab and her family members would be preserved when the city of Jericho was destroyed. However, they made some necessary conditions. First, Rahab was to tie the scarlet cord – with which she let them down to make their escape – to the window of her house. This would be the special mark upon her home, so that no Israelite soldier would unconsciously destroy it. Like the blood upon the doorpost during the night of the Passover, the scarlet cord calls to remembrance the sinner’s security under the atoning blood of Christ. It reminds us that we are to flee to that blood for refuge, from the wrath of a justly offended God. Second, the spies only promised protection to those of Rahab’s family who were inside her own house when the city was destroyed; if any of them wandered outside her walls, their blood would be upon their own head, and not the spies’. Last, they told Rahab that they would be free from their oath if she later turned on them and betrayed them after they had left the city.
After this discussion upon Rahab’s rooftop, she took great care to send the spies away in safety. She let them down with a cord over the city wall, for her house was conveniently situated on the wall itself. She also directed them as to the best way to go in safety. The two men hid on the mountain near the city of Jericho for three days, and then they returned to the Israelite camp with their encouraging news.
Dear Lord Jesus! May Your precious blood be sprinkled upon the door of our heart, as the scarlet cord was fastened to the window of Rahab’s house; so that in the hour of visitation (as in the destruction of Jericho), the destroying angel may see that sweet token between us and our God, and spare our souls! Amen.
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illustration by Charles Foster, 1915